Why do my nipples hurt?
For one, your nipples are super-sensitive (they're a top erogenous zone, after all)-but there's pain that feels good and pain that, well, feels like pain.
So, uh, WTF is going on when your nips actually hurt-and is it something to worry about?
First: Don't freak out; there are various lifestyle and health changes that could lead to nipple pain, and most can easily be resolved once you figure out the culprit (i.e. throw away that ill-fitting sports bra forever), but others may come with more alarming symptoms (like nipple discharge, lumps, or changes in the color or texture of your breast skin) that are definitely a sign to see a doctor.
Whatever the case, irritated, painful nipples aren’t something you should have to deal with on the regular. If your nips are feeling super uncomfortable, make an appointment with your ob-gyn-one of these issues might be at the root.
1. You have an infection in your nipples.
Yep, your nipples can get infected: “There are large pores and hair follicles around the nipple that can become clogged and infected just like in your underarm or pubic areas,” says Jenna Sassie, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist at Women’s Healthcare Associates in Houston.
One possible type of infection, believe it or not, is a yeast infection on your nipple (yes, those yeast infections). These usually occur under the breast where sweat collects, says Sassie, but since yeast thrives in moist, dark environments, women who regularly wear bras made of non-breathable material might be prone to yeast infections on their nipples too.
Thrush is another type of yeast infection that's passed on to breastfeeding mothers from their babies. Luckily, these infections can be treated with antibiotics-for you, and if you're breastfeeding, for your baby too.
Nipple piercing can also lead to infection, especially if it’s not done with good technique or cared for meticulously afterwards, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., a gynecologist in Westchester, New York, and assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. So if you’re considering accessorizing your girls, do your research and find a reputable tattoo and piercing parlor.
2. You have jogger’s nipple.
If you work out regularly or are training for a long endurance event like a marathon, experiencing chafing or irritation from clothing such as a sports bra isn’t that uncommon-TBH, it’s almost a rite of passage.
Dweck advises wearing a well-fitting, good-quality sports bra and using an anti-chafing balm such as Body Glide to prevent irritation.
But you don't have to be a runner to get "jogger's nipple"-it can happen in everyday clothes too. “I’ve also had patients wearing poor-fitting lace bras and such who wind up with rashes or sensitivity because it’s rubbing the nipple all day long,” Sassie says.
If that's the case, it might be worth going through your intimates drawer to figure out if it’s really worth keeping some of those pretty, yet too itchy, bras around.
3. You’re experiencing hormonal changes.
One of the first things you want to consider when you first experience breast pain is whether or not you might be pregnant.
“Nipple pain is sometimes the first sign that you are expecting,” says Sassie.
So if you’re not on birth control and are not experiencing any signs of nipple irritation, you wouldn’t be crazy for rushing out to buy a pregnancy test.
Similarly, if you stopped or started a new birth control method or pill, are about to start your period, or are experiencing any major hormonal fluctuations such as perimenopause, you may experience breast and nipple pain as well, says Sassie; which, while a literal pain, is usually nothing to worry about.
4. You’re breastfeeding
A very unfortunate truth: Experiencing pain while breastfeeding is mostly normal, for a number of reasons: your breast pump doesn't fit well, you have clogged milk ducts, your nipples are cracked, or your baby has latching issues. Nipple creams like Medela Tender Care Lanolin can often help new moms get some relief in those cases.
But sometimes pain during breastfeeding isn't normal-like with mastitis, (a.k.a. inflammation of breast tissue). According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, symptoms of mastitis include breast tenderness or warmth to the touch, breast swelling, thickening of breast tissue or a breast lump; pain or a burning sensation while breastfeeding or during normal daily activities; and skin redness.
“If you are experiencing pain while breastfeeding and also have a fever or chills or you are generally feeling ill, definitely visit your doctor,” Sassie says.
5. You’re having an allergic reaction.
If you’re experiencing itchiness or irritation after using a new fragrance, soap, or lotion, or even laundry detergent or fabric softener, your newfound nipple pain might be the result of an allergic reaction.
If you have made a recent switch-and identified that as the source of your pain-you might be better off going back to your old favorite, or seeking out a fragrance-free or hypoallergenic version.
6. You started or changed a medication.
“Some medications can have side effects that cause nipple sensitivity or even discharge from the nipple,” says Sassie “These can be herbal supplements or prescriptions, especially psychiatric drugs.” Check with your doctor if you think that's the case.
Additionally, if you have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, treatment such as surgery and radiation can cause breast pain as well, says Dweck.
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